“Sorry seems to be the hardest word” is a poignant Elton John song about a relationship that’s breaking up.
At its heart is the realisation that nothing you say or do will bring a dead relationship back to life.
Sure, you can be sorry that things didn’t work out, but don’t apologise just because you are desperate to get the other person to change their mind.
The end of a relationship is always difficult, even for the person who wants it to be over, but don’t grovel.
You can crawl over hot coals, poke knitting needles into your ears, or declare your love for your disinterested partner on a billboard, but it probably won’t change anything.
Indeed, many people will run away even faster when they get the first whiff of apologetic desperation.
Then there’s those slightly annoying people who apologise for just about everything.
If you collide with them in the street, they will say sorry even when it’s not their fault.
If they have to ask you for help, they might say, “Sorry for being such a pain, but do you think you could help me carry my fridge up the stairs? Sorry it’s so heavy. Sorry for taking up so much of your time. Sorry for dropping the fridge on your foot.”
If they bump into a mirror, they’ll probably say sorry to their own reflection.
You know you have a problem when you find yourself apologising to the coffee table after you’ve stubbed your little toe on it.
I used to be a compulsive user of the word sorry, partly because my mother taught me that good manners were necessary if I wanted to get on in life.
When you hear something often enough, you begin to believe it. It didn’t help that I was forever getting into trouble as a child.
Invariably, my mother would find out whenever I did something wrong, and in a bid to pre-empt my punishment, I would say I was sorry as quickly as possible.
Somewhere in my subconscious, I had the idea that saying sorry would smooth things over and make everything all right.
When you grow up saying sorry for every misdemeanour (actual and sometimes perceived) it’s difficult to suddenly change your modus operandi the minute you reach adulthood.
It was only when a boyfriend lost his cool with me one evening that I became aware of how irritating I was.
“Will you stop saying sorry all the time!” he said, his voice sounding shrill.
“It’s driving me nuts. You say sorry so often, you don’t sound sincere. What will you say when you’re REALLY sorry?”
I was silent for a few seconds. Then, somewhat hesitantly, I said, “I will say ‘I’m REALLY sorry’.”
The following day, I tried to count how many times I said sorry when I REALLY had nothing to be sorry about. There were 37 of them.
Even before breakfast, I’d said sorry when my local baker said he would have to go to the back of the shop to get more croissants for me.
Maybe, under the cover of darkness, I’d removed them from the front shop and stashed them away – just to make life more difficult for him.
Later, while on public transport, I said sorry three times. Once for squeezing past a man who was built like King Kong. And again, after I’d asked a woman if she could remove her bag from the seat next to her so I could sit down.
And then again, after asking a man if he could move aside so I could pass him on the escalator.
When I got to work, I said sorry after I’d managed to reopen the lift doors just in time to accommodate a colleague who was calling out to me to wait for her.
What did I think I was expected to do? Keep the lift waiting for several minutes just in case someone was coming behind me?
But worse was to come. My boss came into the office and announced that one of the toilets on our floor was blocked.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Do you want me to call a plumber?”
I made it sound as if I were responsible for the blocked toilet – in the gents.
I could continue but it’s way too embarrassing.
It took me a while to eradicate the unnecessary apologies from my conversation, but I’m glad I did.
The other day, I spoke to an old friend I hadn’t seen for about 30 years. “You’ve changed a lot,” she said. “You were always so apologetic before, but now you sound much more confident.”
“I’m sorry you had to put up with that,” I said.
We both laughed.
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